Thursday, September 27, 2018

Lazy Fingers & Cognitive Assumptions

Every writer faces the task of proofreading at every stage of the writing process. We sometimes do this onerous task at the end of a writing session or we wait until the entire work in progress is commented to paper or even to the last minute before the novel is published.

Competent typists are usually accurate to within a very small percentage point. Two-finger typists, commonly called the “hunt and peck” variety can actually be better at accuracy but much slower. Whichever we are, we occasionally make assumptions about the manual aspects of producing a written work.

Last year, I happily published my seventeenth novel of twenty written works with my name on the cover. While considering a new cover and further research into that period of American history, I reviewed a small section of the novel and—shock horror—even after careful and intense proofreading of the “Advanced Reader’s Copy,” I discovered a typographical error.

Not much further along, I found another error—the “My brain thought this word but my fingers typed that one” kind. During proofreading, the brain often wins the argument, making the assumption that the word typed was the word thought.

With more than one such error, I began at the beginning of the novel, making note of the errors in pencil and marking the pages with strips of multi-colored plastic stickies (my stash of these useful writers’ tools are well-used).

The whole process of re-proofing an already published novel taught me yet another lesson: Proofread more than once and proofread backwards. If you’re self-publishing, asking a friend or paying a professional editor are options. Even so, there will be the occasional missing letter, word or punctuation mark.

In that instance, take the philosophical approach: No one is perfect.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Preparing for a Trip

My husband and I are going to Europe, Germany, France and Austria, for ten days in October for our anniversary and his college study abroad reunion. Besides the need to pack lightly and efficiently, I’ve been wondering how to get the most out of this vacation.

In the course of talking to friends I realize that we don’t all have the same approach to travel. It seems most of my friends, and one in particular, do extensive research, making restaurant reservations and booking tours months and weeks before they leave home. One friend plans each day down to the minute.  I’m awed by her thoroughness and impressed, but I’m not sure it would be the right approach for me.  

Yes, I know there will be something I miss that I’ll only discover when I get back home. It has happened. There will be the restaurant we’ll miss because I should have made a reservation a month before. I’ll also admit, when I do get the recommendations from friends about places they have gone to, I feel a strong compulsion to follow it and fret when I don’t.  But I don’t think it’s really how I want to travel.

The trip, Germany, France and Austria, unlike many business trips to Europe that I’ve gone as the accompanying person, is different.  It’s for our anniversary and where we’ve chosen to go. My husband speaks German, so that will be a plus.  I studied French in high school and need to brush up, but we will get by.  The cities and towns are small and not on the usual bestseller route so they shouldn’t be filled with tourists and we have a general idea of what we want to do.  

We’ll be in the Alsace region of France and the German wine country so I’m thinking we’ll spend one day going from vineyard to vineyard. Another day will be in Strasbourg, a small city in Alsace, that the guidebook says is ancient and charming.  I’m thinking we can follow out noses in the city and the rest of the trip will take care of itself since besides the Rhine valley and Alsace we’ll be driving through the Black Forest, Grimm’s Fairy tale country. Then it’s only four days until we meet up with my husband’s classmates for their 50threunion.  

Do I want a guided tour of the castles we pass? I don’t think so.  I’m more curious about the people we see and the encounters we have. Do I need to eat in the best restaurants?  I’m thinking not.  I live in New York City where fancy food and dining is always available Though I did just read that Jean-Georges Vongerichten is from Alsace and worked at a Michelin starred restaurant there so I may have to rethink.

I’d love to hear how others plan their trips.  As a writer, I’m a pantser.  I don’t make outlines, but follow my nose until the plot is obvious.  My friend who plans down to the minute, if a writer (she a photographer) would be a plotter.  I’d be interested to hear how other people figure out their vacations and if my friend’s method is more common.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Walking Into Well-being

by Sandy Cody

It’s funny how things evolve. A few days ago, Karen wrote about the delights of walking. Her post was inspired by a recent trip she took to visit her family in England. She tied this into another recent post, written by Victoria about the importance of the connection between grandparents and their grandchildren. Karen’s thoughts on the benefits of walking brought to mind a quote I read some time ago. I searched through the jumble of files on my computer, found it, and ... you guessed it ... it prompted my post for today.
“Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Everyday, I walk myself into a state of well-being & walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it. But by sitting still, & the more one sits still, the closer one comes to feeling ill. Thus if one just keeps on walking, everything will be all right.”― Søren Kierkegaard
I think Kierkegaard is right. If one just keeps on walking, everything will be all right. Maybe not perfect or exactly what you’re hoping for, but better. The mere fact of moving forward does help to put things into perspective and gets you through times that are, to use Kierkegaard’s word, burdensome. On the other hand, sitting still, can lead to a feeling of helplessness and even illness.
We all have our favorite places to walk. My dream walk is an outdoor trail, away from the distractions of everyday life. If the path is carpeted with leaves that crunch underfoot, adding a unique music to my ramble ... perfect. 

It's not often that I (or, I suspect, most of you) have time to take off and find the perfect spot, but one of the nice things about walking is that the spot doesn't really need to be perfect. A walk through the neighborhood can be just as refreshing in its own way. Meeting and stopping for a quick chat with a friend you usually just wave to as your cars pass on their ways to your separate lives can be a pleasant change. When I think of my perfect walk, the first thing that comes to mind is solitude, a chance to let my mind wander and my thoughts grow, but thoughts can grow in other ways too. A stroll through a crowded mall with the a chance to people-watch is rewarding in a completely different way. 

Okay ... enough for now. I'm going to release these rambling thoughts into the cyber world, turn off my computer and ... take a walk.

Happy trails to all of you - and if you can't get out for a walk, I hope your thoughts take you on a pleasant journey. 

Sunday, September 9, 2018

The Delights of Walking Everywhere

by Karen McCullough

(I didn’t know today was Grandparents’ Day when I wrote the post a week or so ago, but it seems appropriate!)

Roses and other flowers blooming along
their driveway
My husband and I have just returned from a visit to our son, daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren in England. It was a wonderful trip, filled with good times with all of the family and a bit of sight-seeing in their area. We did a lot of walking and it enhanced the trip in so many ways.

They live in Hythe, Kent, an area known as England’s Garden, and with good reason. Nearly every house has extensive gardens filled with profusions of blooming roses, dahlias, fuchsia, butterfly bush, hollyhocks, hydrangeas, and many others. The picture shows the gorgeous row of flowers beside my son’s driveway.  Given how hard it is to keep anything alive, much less blooming, through the hot summer in our central North Carolina home, it’s safe to say I have garden envy.

Of course that’s mostly the result of a climate that stays moderate and rather rainy most of the time. Daytime temperatures over eighty are considered hot and several days in a row of those highs are a heat wave. We were there in August and day-time highs hovered in the upper sixties to low seventies, which they agreed was pretty much normal. We agreed it was pretty delightful. We were fortunate that it only rained on us a couple of times.

Looking out over Hythe from the hill. The English Channel is
 in the distance.
Hythe is just southeast of Dover and Folkestone along the Channel coast and it’s a lovely old town. The High Street is lined with an assortment of shops that cover most necessities and a lot of fun things. “Charity Shops” abound. (Think small versions of the Goodwill and Salvation Army stores.) There’s even a charity bookshop, where I found several interesting tomes I’d never seen in the U.S. There are a couple of restaurants and quite a few coffee shops. Sidewalks are narrow and crowded but for part of the day the road itself is closed off and turned into a pedestrian walkway.

One of the great benefits of this part of England is that you can walk almost everywhere, a great feature for us since we couldn’t all squeeze in my son’s car at one time. And walk, we did. We spent a couple of happy mornings wandering around the old town of Hythe, but we also walked with the family from their house, situated on a hill well above the town, down to the seashore, a distance of about a mile and a half. We also traveled on foot to shops, coffee houses, and even the grounds of the Hythe festival.

When we made treks to other places, like Rochester Castle, and Dungeness, we took the train, and then walked from the station to wherever we wanted to be. Generally it wasn’t a very long journey.

Because of the small children, we didn’t eat out as often as we might have. But there was a Sainsbury’s grocery store on the route from the town center of Hythe to my son’s house, so we frequently stopped there to get ready-made meals or ingredients for putting something together and schlepped them up the hill to their home.

We walked and talked and gazed and walked and talked some more. The pedometer app on my phone said I did about 14,000 steps most days, which added up to about 5 miles of walking per day.
Long strolls gave us plenty of opportunity to interact with each other, share stories, and compare notes on a wide variety of subjects. Walking let me stop to admire gorgeous views from the hillsides, glorious flowers everywhere, interesting and different birds, and the neatly compact houses that are hallmarks of English homes. We stopped frequently to pluck the blackberries growing in abundance all over and pop them in our mouths.

The scenery is beautiful and because the area is new to us, every corner and turn seemed to present something new and interesting. I blessed the new pair of sturdy walking shoes I’d bought shortly before we left because they supported me well through the many miles I put on them.

Back at home my husband and I walk most days, long marches through our neighborhood early in the morning in summer, to avoid the heat. It’s good for us and feels good, but it isn’t as pleasant as being able to walk to so many interesting and different places in Hythe, Kent.

And I miss the company and chatter of my son, daughter-in-law, and especially their two children, Freya (4), and James (2). 

Friday, September 7, 2018

6 Ways to Celebrate Grandparents Day

by Victoria M. Johnson

Grandparents Day became a national holiday in 1978 and is celebrated the first Sunday after Labor Day.  For 2018 that day is September 9.

According to a post on the Very Well Family website, the holiday came about when a West Virginia mother, Marian McQuade, "while helping to organize a community celebration for those over 80, became aware of the many nursing home residents who were forgotten by their families. She wanted a holiday to bring attention to these forgotten individuals and to honor all grandparents."  And McQuade intended the holiday to be noncommercial and more about family and celebrating generational connections.

The Holidays Calendar website states the purposes of Grandparents Day is: 1) to commemorate and pay respect to grandparents, 2) to recognize the importance that older people can have on the lives of the young, and 3) to give said grandparents the opportunity to show love and support for their children’s children.
It all sounds good to me!  So what can we do to celebrate the grandparents and grandchildren in our lives? 

photo by Thais Morais

Here are a few ideas:

1.  Call or visit
This one is obvious.  Grandparents love to hear from their children and grandchildren any time of the year.

2.  Take a walk
It doesn’t get any simpler than this.  A stroll around the neighborhood, the beach, or anywhere in nature is good for exercise and bonding.

3.  Complete a puzzle together  
This sounds fun.  Visit while you all put your heads together to assemble the pieces.

4.  Make a video together
You don't need an expensive camera to make a movie.  Just use your smart phone to record, edit, and watch.  The video can be anything you like: a How-to, an interview, cooking demonstration, singing, etc.  Keep it short, three or so minutes, so you can finish and watch it in one visit. 

5.  Cook for your grandparents
Instead of grandma cooking for you, cook up a special meal for your grandparents.  The kids can help prepare or bake the dessert ahead of time.   Or grandma may want to cook with the kids.

6.  Start a new tradition together
Grandparents can take the lead on this and create a simple, meaningful, and fun new tradition.  On the GaGa Sisterhood website, Donne Davis says, "Rituals don’t have to be big. But they should have a purpose and be personal. Make them direct and active as possible and fun is always a plus." 

Finally, here is a link to 25 adorable DIY gift ideas on the Dating Divas website.
These craft projects can be made as a gift or they can be a fun activity for children to make with their grandparents.  The ideas for handprints and footprints are my favorites. 

In the words of Alex Haley, "Nobody can do for little children what grandparents do. Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children."  And Grandparents Day is a day to show our appreciation for them. (Actually, it is a day to honor any elderly person who you appreciate).  What will you do?  Let us know in the comments below.

Victoria M. Johnson knew by the time she was ten that she wanted to be a writer.  She loves telling stories and she's happiest when creating new characters and new plots.  Avalon Books and Montlake Romance published Victoria's fiction debut, The Doctor’s Dilemma.  Her other fiction book is a collection of romance short stories titled, The Substitute Bride and a novella, Hot Hawaiian Christmas. She is also the writer and director of four short films and two micro documentaries.   Visit Victoria's website at for inspiration and tips and find her Amazon author page or connect with her on Pinterest and Twitter.

Monday, September 3, 2018

About Sleds and Wild Rides

by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

In my part of the world it's late summer - late, hot, sticky summer - so why sleds? Well, sleds imply snow and while I don't really like the really cold weather, it is pleasing to think about piles of soft, white, puffy snow glistening under a pale blue winter sky. Just don't ask my opinion when it really does get that cold, because without doubt I will wax lyrical about sunny skies and sandy beaches. Consistency, said Oscar Wylde (I think!), is the hobgoblin of little minds.

So what does that have to do with writing? Other than an exercise of the imagination, that is.

Well, if you think about it, writing a book is a lot like sledding. First there is a long slow pull up the hill, then for one fantastic, fleeting moment at the top you can see everything before you. Then you tip over the edge, aiming for where you think the place you want to be is... but it's never as smooth as you think it will be. There are hidden rocks, intrusive trees, invisible drifts that send you off in any number of directions before your wild ride is over. And finally you come to a standstill - maybe where you thought you would be, more usually not - but it's where your path dictated you had to end up. You throb with conflicting emotions - an adrenaline high because you have actually done it; a black and morose funk because it is over; satisfaction; half fear and half anticipation that soon you'll have to do it again and apprehension that you won't be able to.

To me that sounds like the maelstrom of feelings that always follows finishing a book. I've done lots of books (30 or so over the years) and have pretty much experienced all these emotions with every one of them.

Writing a book falls under several old sayings. First, of course, you have to finish the darn thing. A half-finished manuscript is like a half-chewed hamburger - pretty much useless and not very appealing. A book is like a speech - it has a beginning, a middle and an end.

A story has the same three parts - not all equal in size. The first part is creating your world and your characters, and you must do that to let your reader know where they are, whether it's an alien world with cool orange seas and three moons, or the everyday world of crabgrass and grocery store coupons. No, you don't have to describe every single thing - just give enough detail that your reader can orient himself. The second is the fun part. Here you can run riot - complicate, bring new characters and threads (but remember you have to tie up all those threads at the end!) and mystify as to the ending. This is often the longest part. The third part is the wind-up-and-show-how-it-ends part, and if you've done it correctly, you are not in charge - the story goes where it's supposed to. Just be sure that you wind up all those nagging little threads. This is the sled ride, and a wild ride it can be.

In the interest of full disclosure I must say that I am most definitely a pantser and often I find out what is going to happen just a few sentences before the reader. There are those who decry this method, but it works well for me and my readers don't complain. Some wise person once said, "no surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader."  On the other hand, I've heard pretty much this same sled-ride comment from some dedicated plotters too, so there has to be something to it. If all else fails, remember the 'delete' key is there for a reason.